When Money-Saving Tips & Reality Collide: What I’ve Learned

Everybody has a money-saving checklist that includes buying store brands, becoming a coupon ninja and conserving electricity. For some, that might be enough to trim your spending down to match your budget. Not for me. I needed to take it a step further – so being the unashamed penny-pincher I am, I did some unconventional things. They’ve mostly worked for me, although some of them have their drawbacks and hassles!

What I’ve Done – and How it Has Worked-or Not

Grocery Shopping

Store brands, coupons and weekly sales, right? No, there are bigger & better ways to save without all the hassle. I was shopping at Food Lion and Kroger doing the best I could with that mentality, yet spending $150-200/mo for one person and buying basically NOTHING! No yogurt, cottage cheese, prepared foods, milk, jelly, desserts…I could go on.

A few months later we got an Aldi in my town – now I spend under $100/mo and buy way more food! According to Couponbox.com grocery shoppers an average of 34 percent per month at Aldi. Meat is cheap, yet quality – I rarely pay more than $2/lb for pork or chicken and $3-4/lb for ground beef. Eggs are $0.69/dozen, milk is $2.69/gal. Shopping at Aldi can transform your grocery budget – the store is small, with limited choices of their brands only, but these brands are much better than other stores’ brands.

Yes, it has drawbacks – I can’t get everything at Aldi. Grated cheese is a bit expensive, as is lettuce, maple syrup and more. Old fashioned grits are not to be had. That’s what Sam’s Club or Costco is for, though – and it’s well worth the membership!

Buy in Bulk

Have you always thought that buying local from the small-time farmer was more expensive? Sometimes it is, but if you can buy in bulk you often get a savings. Living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, there are certain crops that the rest of the country pays a premium price for. Yet, if I buy in-season it’s a cheaper commodity – peaches, apples, berries, sweet potatoes (bought in bulk from wholesale food re-sellers/packing companies), honey, corn, tomatoes, etc. Every year I’ll buy a bushel (40lbs) of peaches and apples when they’re in season and then slice and freeze them. Perfect for desserts, breakfast toppings or snacks. That’s about a years supply for $25 each!

The negative? You have to be willing to slice, freeze and store the fruits. Sometimes that requires going to the farms and picking strawberries in the blazing sun, or digging through a barrel of apples looking for the best ones. But who doesn’t like a good tan and the satisfaction of a job well done?

My Lawn

I’m a landscaper’s sister, so I can’t abide an unkempt lawn. It needs to be mowed, flower beds must be mulched and edged precisely…but it tall takes money. I obviously have access to free (or very cheap) sources for mulch, topsoil, extra plants for my garden, landscaping tools, trucks and the like. Yes, I do, but even if you don’t there are money-saving tactics you can implement.

First, don’t buy your mulch bagged at the local home improvement store. That’s the single most expensive way to buy it. Find local landscaping supply stores – they sell to the public, too and generally offer delivery for a small fee ($5-30, depending on the distance). If you really want a cheap or free source for mulch, call some landscapers/tree removal guys and see if they have tree chips they’d be willing to give you from a future project. Often times landscapers are just happy for a place to dump their chips.

Don’t buy a mower at Walmart or your local home improvement store – head to a mower shop. Your little, old-time mower shops have less overhead and can offer you a quality product for much less. Not to mention the better service! I bought a bottom-of-the-line Toro push mower with a Briggs & Stratton engine for about $250. Top quality brand that is super simple to operate, troubleshoot or make repairs. If it breaks, parts are not expensive. Unlike Walmart or equivalent brands – they break down more often, even if they are top of the line models. Many mower repair shops recommend simply replacing these mowers when they break – they just aren’t built to last!

Be willing to put some sweat and blood into your yard – a shovel can easily be used to make a sharp edge on a flower bed; you don’t need a fancy edger. Mulch can be spread by hand, and weeds can be painstakingly pulled instead of sprayed – it takes time, but your greenscapes will be gorgeous!

Plant a Garden

Just like the old days, everyone needs a garden! True, but the initial investment can be a big deal, so keep that in mind. My landlord didn’t want me digging in the backyard, so I had to have raised beds. I got old, wooden guardrail timbers for $8/each (that’s super cheap!), plus rebar to hold them in place – that along was about $60. Not to mention the $120 of topsoil, the $50 in tomato cages, $20 in plants and seeds, or $30 in fertilizer. And did I mention the $10 for RoundUp to spray the area before dumping topsoil? This is all for a 10×10 foot garden space, into which I have crammed 9 tomatoes, 4 peppers, basil and green beans. Kale will replace the green beans this fall.

The drawbacks? All the money you dump into it at first – it’s an investment alright, but in future years it will pay off. Of course, you must be willing to tend and nurture it to see any results. And did I mention putting up the extra food for winter consumption? Savings don’t come without effort!

Household Items

Buy used! Sure, for some things it would just be gross. But for others, why not? Search your county/city for various buy/sell or online yardsale groups – just be careful you don’t wind up spending more money buying things you don’t really need. Local thrift and consignment shops are also a good go-to. Buy furniture on Craigslist – I bought a cute, solid wood breakfast table with 4 chairs for $100. Not a thing in the world wrong with them, save a scrub-down. The next week I bought a sofa for $200, although finding a clean one can be tricky – make sure it comes from a clean, well-kept home to help avoid bed bugs, furniture mites and just general icky-ness. This is when posting to your personal Facebook page and buying from a friend might be best.

I just snagged a deal on a local Facebook yardsale group of 2 wooden rocking chairs for $40. Sure, they need repainting, but they’ve got brand new cushions and they’ll be just lovely on the front porch for watching the sunset while sipping a glass o’ sweet tea.

What unconventional, money-saving tactics have you tried? Did they backfire, or would you recommend giving them a try?

Caroline Liller

Caroline has experience in digital marketing, content marketing and public relations. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in journalism/PR from The University of South Carolina. When not working, she enjoys traveling, being active and exploring her hometown.

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